I Heard the Bells

stockings

This time of year tends to stir something deep within me. A beautiful season of old dead ground washed in white, moonlight dancing in tones of blue across fields. Anticipating the celebration of the birth of God in flesh, the salvation of His beloveds.

:::    I heard the bells on Christmas day
:::    Their old familiar carols play,                  
:::    And wild and sweet the words repeat   
:::    Of peace on earth, good will to men     

But it seems this time of year is also disproportionately scored with deep wounds and the acute ache of grief.

Two dear friends marked the anniversary of the day they gave birth far too soon to babies who would never take a breath on this earth. The third loss for one the fourth the other. Another friend slept in a hospital with her already medically fragile child was now hooked up to wires and observed by doctors; one life altering diagnosis already seemed like too much, but two? Another said goodbye to the first man she loved, the man who raised her and taught her to conquer her fears, and who stood by she and her husband, half a decade earlier, when they said goodbye to their own child. A close friend currently waits for pictures from the adoptive parents of her very first grandchild, knowing it’s what was best, still hurt by the knowing. And still another family prays for a prodigal daughter, bandaging wounds from the leaving, putting up stockings and buying gifts without knowing if they’ll be enjoyed or opened. All of them keenly aware of how incongruent their circumstances feel in a season thick with the promise of hope and joy.

:::    I thought how, as the day had come,
:::    The belfries of all Christendom
:::    Had rolled along th’ unbroken song
:::    Of Peace on earth, good will to men

It was a Sunday morning, and I was sitting on the floor of my daughter’s room, holding her while she told me with clenched fists and in between sobs how her whole body has been tired for weeks. How it’s not just her legs or the end of long days anymore but sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is difficult. How the heavy blankets that keep her small body warm also make it difficult to roll over at night. That her head feels heavier than it used to, and her neck needs a break more often. That she slouches because her muscles can’t support her sitting upright for a whole day anymore. That she’s sad and angry that her condition is getting worse and she wants me to make it stop.

I held her and thought about what it would be like to be emotionally filleted, and sad, and angry, and wanting answers, and trapped in a failing body, and eleven years old.

I wanted to make it better right then. With every ounce of me I wanted to say something beautiful or do something to make it stop for her. But I knew I couldn’t. I just told her I was sorry, so sorry, that this was happening, that I love her, and that God loves so, so deeply, and he hurts with her too.

:::    And in despair I bowed my head
:::    “There is no peace on earth,” I said,
:::    “For hate is strong and mocks the song
:::    Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

And an hour later there we were, positioned in the back at church. She sat reclined in her power chair, eyes still puffy and red. I glanced over and smiled at the sight of her wild and soft curls. A quiet glimpse of her defiant and loving spirit.

Before I even realized it, our pastor was speaking directly into our mess. I can’t help but love it when God does that. When he prepares a way long before you even realize one is needed. How he does it in a way you could never do on your own. How nothing I could have said to my daughter while she sat crumpled on her floor even compared to what God would speak into her heart and my mama heart that morning. How all things, all of them, work for His good.

:::    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
:::    “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
:::    The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
:::    With peace on earth, good will to men.

So, we sat together and she looked up every verse and read them and followed along with the sermon. And we talked later about what was said; that hope is trust in the promises and character of God and not our circumstances, and how God invades the mess – our mess , that there is hope because Jesus Christ is with us and because our sins are forgiven.

:::    Till ringing, singing on its way
:::    The world revolved from night to day,
:::    A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
:::    Of peace on earth, good will to men.

When there is no sight to the end of pain and wondering if He is even listening, He carefully leads with one hand and carves a path through the wrong with the other. During long, sleepless nights of asking, “why?” He steadily revolves the world from night to day. When the outlook of our world is blanketed in the confusion of conflict, He offers a place of deep, abiding peace.

Our hope is in the unchanging promise, the gift of God in flesh, the beginning of making our relationship right. And that means he’s there in places that should have been. And he’s there in the waiting and the uncertainty. He’s there for the celebration and deep hurt and memories. He’s in the complicated and the sting of unconditional. And he awaits with joy to celebrate the wanderer.

He is a good God. A good Father. Adonai. He makes a way for those who love Him when it seems like there is none. While you’re running toward freedom, he’s preparing to part waters. While you’re wandering in what feels like a desert he’s often providing a shield from the hot sun and warmth and protection at night. When you feel like you’re running in circles, he’s bringing down walls.

While you were not even yet born, he was making a way to Heaven.

:::    A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
:::    Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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